Jul 17, 2010

Morals of These Stories

I was driving my daughter to camp this morning and at one point in our journey we came across a barrier of orange cones and a big sign that threatened 'Road Closed, Local and Emergency Traffic Only' and I took one look at the gridlock being caused by all the people obeying the sign and I thought to myself, simultaneously, 'her camp's local,' (it wasn't really) and 'this is an emergency, we're running a few minutes late.' And without feeling too guilty I drove right past the sign and made our way to camp. We didn't encounter anything that looked like construction or anything else, and glided smoothly, unobstructed, all the way there.

Years ago I had to go pick up W-something forms for our babysitter from the IRS agency. Either the place was as crowded as the DMV OR at that time it was combined with the DMV. I don't really remember which of these is true, but the basic idea is that it was just a disaster of a government agency. I was 'triaged' immediately by someone who learned that I just needed to pick up a form, and I was sent to some very specific line and given a very high number. I couldn't believe that I was supposed to wait for my number to be called. Around me people sat with sour faces, my memory is that there were chickens clucking and children screaming, but again that might be embellishment. You get the idea though. After a few minutes I did the math--they were on number 39 when I got here and I have number 187 and it's taken seven minutes to get to number 41--and realized that it would never be my turn. I asked a few official people if I really had to do all this waiting just to get a form, and they all nodded grimly. A few more minutes passed and then number 42 was called, pause, repeated, and I realized I could be in front of the open teller in seconds. I lept to the counter, confessed that I was not number 42, and said 'I just need this one form.' The woman rolled her eyes, reached behind her, pulled one down from the shelf, and handed it to me. I left the building fifteen minutes after I arrived, and strolled out past hundreds of downtrodden people on my way out, with my crisp W-whatever in my hand.

Hooray, right? In each case I broke the rules and got exactly what I needed, as scores of other people, sheep-like obeyers, suffered the consequences of their obedience.

Good for me, right? Wrong.

These moments make me ill. I hate it. Leaping to open tellers, disobeying stern traffic signs, these things do not come naturally to me. But I live in New York--the land of 'HONK! the red light's taking too long, it MUST be broken! HONK, just drive through it--I tell you, it MUST be broken, HONK!' and I've just kind of adapted. So all I'm thinking as I waltz out of the IRS agency with my form in hand is 'crap, does this mean I have to be this pushy every time I need something from the IRS?' And when I sailed past the orange barrier and found nothing but open road and no traffic I thought 'crap, does this mean I have to consider ignoring every construction sign?'

In each case I got what I wanted, I got where I wanted to be, and I got these things quickly. But not without some shame on my part and yet another lesson learned: self-righteousness and aggression really pay off sometimes.

And even though I feel quite triumphant in these moments...I don't love the morals of these stories.

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